poems from the anti-terrorist operation zone

adrian bonenberger • winter/spring 2017



Before you cross block point alpha
And drive into a crater-riddled field
Take this unseen precaution:
Check the long slippery guts
Stacked below your stomach,
Packed tight like confetti.

That’s where your fingers will
Jab, frantic, down ragged holes
Later when higher confirms
Enemy movements in strength
Along a loud opposing ridgeline.


At the end of a shattered road
Amid lonely, cold brick walls
You’ll find her, smelling of rust
And flies, and drying blood,
And chaff and acrid flavored air,
Waiting to answer a question
You’ve wanted since childhood
To ask. Well, here she is: ask it!


Over vodka, we can speak truly.
Tell the honest story of our past.
Like: his Polish grandparents
Fought bravely in the resistance.
Like: her grandparents fought
Bravely in the French resistance.
Like: those people over there?
Dutch, Danish, Belgian, Czech,
Their grandparents were brave,
They fought the Nazis, as part
Of the noble resistance.
The vodka goes fast down these
Brave grandchildren’s throats—
They remember their grandparents,
And how they all fought to stop
The German Nazis.

I can’t stop myself.
I want to be silent but—
A question!
If everyone was in the resistance,
(And it seems like everyone was)
How did the Nazis win?
And how then did they
Rule so long, so deep?

Waiter, more vodka, please.


Clattering up the stone steps he blinks,
The cellar light diminished both his eyes,
Long living underground to duck the shells
That burst amid his garden every night.
The old man totters, nearly falls, then
Wheezes over to the well, a wood bucket
Nurtured in a bloated, weathered hand—
He was at that age when dry folded flesh
Made his neck’s short base resemble that
Of a flaccid penis, or a land turtle’s neck.


The lost pilot roams cloudless skies,
Without hills or sea to guide his way
He barely knows when or where to turn.
Shaky weather arrives like a hammer
Hurled from above: unexpected, unseen,
But not altogether unwelcome.


Great Checkpoint God, let the passage go fast,
Let us thread this cram of four-wheeled needles
Like a sleek Chinese drake, quick to coil through
Hustle, guns, shells, mines, bribes, and hoods
Shaking rifle squeaks beneath our car’s trunk.
Let us not to prompt skeptical guardsmen,
(Your loyal, reverent priests and deputies),
And vouchsafe our passports and documents,
Shroud clever eyes from seeing our coy pose:
We’re contrabanderas, history’s foils,
Racing propagandists in search of a
Truly great lie: believe us, Checkpoint God,
We honor you with our mischief, our speed;
Oh stony Checkpoint God, hear our curt plea,
Part the cutting wire, the wide concrete blocks,
The ordered miles and bureaucratic screed,
A twelve-hour feast of gnats on sweating skin,
Excuse us from the wait, the slow. The real.

ADRIAN BONENBERGER writes fiction and poetry with a focus on people in war, or who have been affected by war. His memoirs, Afghan Post, are available through The Head and The Hand Press. He co-edited an anthology of veterans’ fiction, The Road Ahead (Pegasus), which is due out from in January of 2017. He lives and works in Ukraine.